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November 17th, 2021 · 5 min read

4 reasons why diversity programs fail (and what to do about it)

Why diversity programs fail

Lack of support beyond hiring

Resistance to change

Solely focused on diversity training 

Strategy is owned by the wrong people

Powerful tactics for developing diversity programs that work

  • Integrate diversity efforts with company culture
    For a diversity program to be successful, change has to start from within — this means cultivating a company culture and work environment that’s welcoming to employees from all backgrounds and social practice traditions. Corporate culture often defaults to the most familiar social standards and unintentionally leaves out everyone else. Trying to introduce diversity programs into this type of environment sets your efforts back right away.

    It’s not possible to change company culture overnight, but there are small policy changes you can enact that make a big difference on how comfortable employees feel at work and how they start to view and think about DEI within your company.

    An example of this is giving employees flexible time off to celebrate the cultural or religious holidays that they take part in, not just the most common or popular holidays. Another example is ensuring that work events are inclusive of individuals with different religious or life practices.
  • Work with executives to promote cross-level collaboration
    In many cases, the C-suite sets the tone for company culture — this can also apply to how the organization views DEI. Traditional diversity initiatives work with a top-down, power-over modality. But to be successful, it’s important to re-think this approach to support a power-with strategy.
    This requires working with the executive leadership and other levels of management to learn how to engage employees and have active discussions around company culture and diversity. When you make it clear that workplace DEI is a collaborative effort and show employees that their opinions are heard, it encourages team members at all levels of the organization to take part in driving change.
  • Hire DEI specialists
    If your current team doesn’t have the DEI expertise necessary to drive the strategy forward, hire for it. Simply bucketing diversity under the many existing priorities of an HR department is rarely enough to sustain a successful initiative. Seek out external subject matter experts to work directly with your HR and leadership teams to provide the expertise needed to execute against your goals.
  • Prioritize workforce education
    The lack of access to quality education is a major driver of workplace inequality. Black, Indigenous and Latinx individuals in the United States are far less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than white Americans largely due to enduring systemic barriers. However, businesses are in a unique position to break down these barriers by offering workforce education to their employees.

    When coupled with other DEI initiatives, a strategic workforce education program allows you to put real action behind your promises and provide your people with the ability to develop long-term skills that propel their careers forward. This ensures that the diverse talent you hire is equipped with the tools they need to be successful far past the onboarding process.


DEI in the workplace: a work in progress

You can address talent development challenges